By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – DeSoto County, the state’s most affluent school district, has $1.49 billion of assessed property to tax and generate revenue for its students while Durant, one of Mississippi’s poorest districts, has property within its boundaries assessed at $10.49 million to educate its children.
The Mississippi Adequate Education Program is designed to level the playing field for a child in Durant, but without taking money from DeSoto, according to state Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, one of the architects of the legislation passed in 1997.
While MAEP’s nuances can make it seem complex, in reality the concept behind the funding formula is pure and simple.
That concept is to determine the amount of funds needed to provide each student an adequate education and to provide the state’s share of those funds.
The program was developed in the 1990s to head off lawsuits over the issues of equity and adequacy funding. In the 1980s and ‘90s, many states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas, lost similar lawsuits.
“I thought the right thing to do was for us to act instead of the courts forcing us to,” said former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, one of the architects of the funding formula when he was lieutenant governor.
HOW IT WORKS
The state Department of Education, with the aid of a private accountanting firm as mandated by law, is responsible for figuring the cost of MAEP each year. To do that, the department selects average, or “successful,” now “C” districts and determines how much it costs to educate a child in those districts. Districts that are outside certain parameters, spending significantly more or less than the average, are eliminated from the equation, though the formula is weighted to eliminate a greater percentage of districts that spend more than those that spend less.
The result of that calculation is deemed as “adequate” to educate a student.
For the upcoming 2013-14 school year, it is calculated to be $5,116.75 per student to provide an adequate education. But the state does not provide the full amount of money for each student in a district.
The district is responsible for paying a portion of that costs – based on its wealth.
Under the law, each school district must levy a minimal amount of taxes toward MAEP. The minimal amount is 28 mills, but it is capped at 27 percent of the total MAEP costs. A mill is a tax system that equals 1/1,000th of the assessed evaluation of property.
Based on 2010-11 figures, Tupelo, which has an assessed valuation of $515.67 million, received $3,052 from the state per student, while Lee County, which has an assessed valuation of $260.17 million, got $4,300 per student from the state. Nettleton, which has an assessed valuation of $32 million, garnered $4,852. Nettleton’s 28-mill contribution provided the rest to reach the per pupil expenditure determined to be adequate.
Most districts provide much more than 28 mills toward educating their students. Tupelo, for instance, provides 55 mills and Lee County just over 50, according to 2010-11 state Department of Education data. The statewide average is just under 44 mills.
The formula is re-calculated every four years. In the intervening years, the districts receive an “inflationary adjustment equal to 40 percent of the base student cost for the previous fiscal year times the latest annual rate of inflation.”
“To me the Farm Bureau ought to identify this as the best thing to happen for rural Mississippi in generations,” said Bryan. “In so many cases, the property poor districts are in rural areas. This helps the local property owners in rural areas by holding their taxes down.”
The problem, Bryan pointed out, is that it has only been fully funded twice since it was fully enacted in 2002. The program has been underfunded about $980 million since the 2007-08 school year, leading some to question whether Mississippi could still be vulnerable to a lawsuit over school funding issues.
THE MISSISSIPPI ADEQUATE EDUCATION PROGRAM formula provides more per-pupil funds to districts with less local property to tax, as these examples indicate. District Assessed valuation State funds per pupil
• Tupelo $515.67 million $3,052
• Lee County $260.17 million $4,300
• Nettleton $32 million $4,852